Melvin Theuma refuses to testify in phantom job case against Keith Schembri and others

Pardoned Daphne Caruana Galizia murder middleman Melvin Theuma refuses to testify in criminal proceedings against Keith Schembri, Yorgen Fenech and other former government officials

Melvin Theuma (right) was given a phantom job with the government in 2017 on the intervention of former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri (left)
Melvin Theuma (right) was given a phantom job with the government in 2017 on the intervention of former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri (left)

Melvin Theuma has refused to testify against five men accused of giving him a phantom government job, five months after he brokered the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Theuma’s refusal came after defence lawyers questioned whether the presidential pardon he was given in relation to the murder, covered this particular case as well.

After a lengthy exchange of legal arguments, Theuma informed the court he was exercising his right not to testify so as not to incriminate himself.

Theuma was supposed to testify today in the criminal proceedings against the five men that include Keith Schembri, the former chief of staff at the Office of the Prime Minister, and Yorgen Fenech.

The other three men are former OPM customer care chief Sandro Craus, former private secretary in the family ministry Anthony Ellul and former Housing Maintenance and Embellishment Co Ltd CEO Anthony Muscat. 

But when Theuma took to the witness stand this morning, lawyers defending the five men accused the prosecution of misleading the witness into testifying. The lawyers claimed that Theuma’s presidential pardon did not cover his actions in this case and he would be incriminating himself under oath.

Lawyers demand Theuma testimony be expunged

The lawyers demanded the expunging of every reference to Theuma’s testimony before the criminal inquiry into the phantom job. 

The five defendants are facing theft and misappropriation charges in connection with a phantom government job allegedly given to Theuma by Schembri.

On the witness stand, Theuma opted to exercise his right not to incriminate himself and declined to testify.

Theuma, who had previously admitted in separate criminal proceedings to having helped set up the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, claims to have done so at Fenech’s behest. He had been granted a presidential pardon in return for his testimony against Fenech in criminal proceedings related to the murder.

During those proceedings, Theuma had told the court that five months before the murder took place, he had been given a job by Schembri  at the government-owned Housing Maintenance and Embellishment Co Ltd, for which he drew a salary, despite never actually showing up to work.

But during this morning’s sitting, prosecuting police inspector Nicholas Vella resisted the defence’s repeated demands that he exhibits a copy of the presidential pardon granted to Theuma.

The court had earlier decreed that Theuma could be allowed to testify, after hearing lengthy submissions on this issue.

Prosecution accused of reckless behaviour

But the defence lawyers are now accusing the prosecution of knowingly or recklessly exposing their own witness to the risk of self-incrimination on serious charges, which did not appear to be covered by his presidential pardon.

Lawyer Charles Mercieca pointed out that Theuma had confirmed that he had accepted money deriving from a job which he knew didn’t exist and suggested he be administered a caution as he could incriminate himself with regards to the crime of money laundering and embezzlement.

But there were bigger problems than self-incrimination, said lawyer Stefano Filletti. The witness has admitted to receiving money to which he was not entitled and had in fact called up one of the accused asking where his cheque was, he said. “This means he is a co-author of the crime, not just an accomplice. There is also money laundering here.”

“We would like an explanation as to why Theuma was allowed to make incriminating statements during the inquiry and was not administered a caution… Does Melvin Theuma have a presidential pardon which we don’t know about, because the one we know about doesn’t extend to this,” Filletti said.

“This is important because if he has not been pardoned for this… the Attorney General, if she has before her a criminal act, why has she not taken steps against Theuma?”

The criminal code obliges the police to charge persons who perform criminal acts, argued the lawyer. “The State is accusing my client of receiving funds illicitly, and he should be charged alongside my client. Which renders him, by the operation of the law, an inadmissible witness.”

“Is the AG trying to manoeuvre Melvin Theuma into testifying in a case where he should be a co-accused? We need an explanation as to why he was allowed to testify one, two, three times without proceedings being taken against him,” Filletti said, lamenting what he described as a “lack of transparency and inconsistency in these proceedings.”

“We are descending into far more abysmal spheres than we were this morning,” observed lawyer Edward Gatt.

He accused the police of leading Theuma on with the false notion that he was safe from prosecution, in a bid to “crucify” the defendants through Theuma’s testimony.

“This implies other things,” lawyer Michael Sciriha pointed out. “Everyone knows that a co-suspect’s testimony against his fellow accused is not valid. How can a court ever not throw out all this?”

As the prosecution asked for some time to formulate its reply, the court ordered that Theuma be isolated and not allowed to communicate with anyone for the next few hours, giving the prosecution up till 2pm to make the necessary consultations.

Yorgen Fenech is being represented by lawyers Charles Mercieca, Gianluca Caruana Curran and Marion Camilleri. 

Lawyers Edward Gatt and Mark Vassallo are defence counsel to Schembri.

Lawyer Stefano Filletti is appearing for Anthony Muscat.

Lawyers Vince Micallef and Ryan Ellul are representing Anthony Ellul.

Lawyers Michael Sciriha and Lucio Scriha are defending Sandro Craus.

When the sitting resumed, the prosecution argued that Theuma’s testimony cannot be removed at prima facie stage. “Proces verbal is proof."

But Gatt pointed out that the defence has been deprived of a chance to cross-examine the witness on which this whole case has been built. “If that’s their response, the court should honour our request.”

The magistrate deferred the case to 11 October at 1pm.